We wanted to take a moment to update everyone on our continuing COVID policy. In brief; we still are only open for Take Out, we are not yet open for dine-in.
Why you might ask? Here’s a little bit of an explanation for you all.
Mesa County variance is still only allowing for a seating capacity of 50% of occupancy. This is posted occupancy as identified by our local Fire Dept who determines such things for businesses. This is not an arbitrary number that we get to make up (“oh! I think we can easily fit 100 people in here!”)
On top of that, the county regulations state that tables must be kept at a 6-foot distance from each other to keep folks appropriately distanced.
We took a tape measure to our dining room, side patio, and back patio and measured out how many tables that would allow us. The combination of those two requirements actually meant that if we were to adequately follow the 6-foot distancing, our occupancy ability would actually be at much less than the 50% allowance. For example, following guidelines, we were only able to fit 3 tables on our entire side patio, and 4 tables on the back patio. This is not a great deal of seating….
We have already encroached upon every single square foot of usable space on our property so don’t have the room for patio expansion that some businesses have had the ability to take advantage of. This pretty much means that unless we stuck you all on the west-facing side of our building, out in the street, sweltering in the hot sun, or in the vacant, fully exposed dirt lot behind us (also sweltering in the hot sun) we just don’t have the exterior room to put anyone. Well, at least not in an environment that anyone would want to spend time in…..
50% occupancy does not mean that we can operate at 50% labor capacity. It’s actually the opposite. Right now our entire team is focused on operating our Take Out model. This has not meant a major reduction in our labor hours. To now add Dine In on top of that would actually mean bringing in more team members in order to do so, adding costs to our already strained margins.
The choice to open or not is a very personal one that at the end of the day only individual businesses can make the proper assessment on. For us, when we look at the operational and financial realities of only opening at 50% capacity, our number-crunching tells us that it is just not worth it for us to open the doors yet.
None of us know when the county will allow for greater occupancy. When occupancy limits are increased, then the conversation becomes a much more valid one for us to look at the steps needed to open. For now, we sincerely thank you for continuing to bear with us and enjoy your Tomato To Go. Trust us, we miss your smiling faces, your energy, and serving you cold beers at the bar. Thank you so much for the continued support; we will all get through this, and we will be here to make you pizza when we do!
COVID-19 Update 5/1/2020
As many of you may have heard, Mesa County recently applied for and was granted a variance to the state regulations mandating response to Covid-19. The exact language is still being drafted, so right now we are unclear what the final guidelines will be, but we do know that restaurants will be allowed to open their dining rooms at 30% seating capacity. However, we are opting to keep our current To Go status a little while longer while we think about what reopening will look like for us.
What does this mean for us? We wanted to take this time to share with you all what our response to this, and our thoughts regarding such, will look like. This is going to be a bit of a lengthy brain dump, so bear with us, but if you’d like to know more about what goes on in the minds of the Tomatoes, read on.
Ok! To say that the month of March/beginning of April was stressful would be an understatement. The information coming at us was changing and updating daily, if not hourly, and so were our conversations. Do we close? Do we lay everyone off? Do we do Take Out? Can we handle food safely? How does this spread? Is our staff safe? Are our customers safe? It was an exhausting time period because every new piece of information carried with it the necessity to possibly have to pivot our business model and decision-making process, or at least have lengthy conversations around that new information.
We at the Tomato have always taken the very deliberate approach to not create top-down directives to our team. Every policy and procedure at an organizational level has been discussed and vetted by at the minimum our leadership team, and often the entire staff. ‘Buy-in’ is super important for us, and it has become even more so in our response to Covid. We want our team totally on board with our decisions, and to trust that we are looking out for their best interest. This meant that for the initial response period, we spent a ton of time meeting (albeit from a safe distance) and looking at all of our potential options.
Any time organizational changes are made within any business, all moving parts must be considered. Restaurants, in a nutshell, are full of moving parts. Even for us, where To Go pizzas have always been about 30% of our business, the transition to a Take Out only concept required retooling many of our procedures. Some of them we did in a fast and efficient manner, some of them not so much. This apology goes out to anyone who has sat on hold through a lengthy queue on our new phone system and then been accidentally hung up on.... or just received constant busy signals prior to said phone system.
The constant need to retool, reevaluate, and then pivot was what made so much of the 328 Days Of March/April (“Mapril”) so exhausting.
As we look at and consider the reality of what May will look like, we can't help but think it will feel very much the same, and this is guiding much of our decision-making process right now.
We finally feel like we have a decent system figured out.
“Mapril” existed in a state of constant Reaction, not Pro-activeness. This is a pretty uncomfortable place to be in as a business.
Because no one really has any answers right now on what a reopening process will look like, we are guessing that May has the potential to feel very much also like a reactionary period.
We don’t want to go through that immediately again.
We are choosing to go into this process in a very slow manner, and not jump immediately into procedures that might be mandated to change course.
In short, we are making the decision to not immediately open up our dining room right now.
Some of this is guided by our experience going into this process, and not wanting to relive that just yet, but some of this is also guided by the many questions that this raises for us in terms of the actual implementation of things. These are some of the considerations we are taking into to account:
We are counter service, how do we effectively limit customers to 30% of our occupancy?
“Just take some of the tables out!“ you say! We love our guests dearly, and we know you pretty well after 15 years. We know that on busy days the Tomato exists in a state of sort of controlled chaos, so we know what your response to that would be; “Ok! I’ll just cram 20 deep at the bar! No need to sit!” Taking tables out is easier said than done.
Who cleans the bathrooms after each use? How do we take our staff’s temperatures each day? What happens if someone gets sick and then we have to shut down? Who the hell would deep clean the place afterward? Can we still sell beer To Go? Do we introduce wait staff? Do we stop people at the door and not let folks in? How do we keep our staff safe?
We are also having moments of struggling to purchase basic ingredients; flour, yeast, cheese, pepperoni, containers, the list changes week to week.
Do we, Do we, Do we, Do we....etc etc.
All of this coalesces into the considerations we must think about when making these decisions. Because of this, for us organizationally we are deciding to stick this one out a bit longer and Carry On with the Tomato A Go-Go model. Our goal is to make every one of you happy, give you the products you have come to love, and have a good attitude while doing it. Trust us, we miss your happy faces and the excitement you bring to our currently sad dining room more than anything, but we feel it is best to give the reopening process a little more time to develop fully in order to make this successful for all of us.
Please bear with us during this time and thank you for your continued support! We will update everyone promptly if things change on our end!